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It would not be completely accurate to say billions in local school tax money is being used for general state spending.
But it wouldn’t exactly be wrong, either.
Property-rich school districts in Texas hate sending money to the state to help property-poor school districts. But the state has little incentive to change that system: Every dollar the rich districts send in is a dollar the state itself doesn’t have to spend.
The money coming in from those property-rich districts is quite a pile, too. For lawmakers writing the 2018-19 budget, that “recapture” money will increase by an estimated $1.44 billion, freeing that much state money for other general spending.
The richer school districts (“richer” here refers to the value of their real estate and not to the incomes of the residents) are sending $3.69 billion to the state in the 2016-17 budget period. The state has to use that money on public education; it’s an effort to level out the differences in how much money is available to educate kids from different parts of the state.
That said, any money that comes in from the rich districts allows the state to spend the dollars it would have spent on education on other programs and services. The numbers are rising, too. The Texas Education Agency estimates it will “recapture” $5.13 billion during the next budget period, up from $3.69 billion in the current budget.
At the same time the agency’s official budget request to state lawmakers would require the state to spend 8.4 percent less from general revenue than the current budget a drop that’s partly attributable to the increase in recapture money available to the state.
Intentionally or not, it’s a great political deal for state lawmakers. They can squawk at local school districts for high property tax rates at the same time they’re using some of that money to lower the state’s expenses for public education.
The locally raised taxes recaptured from property-wealthy districts lower the amount of state-raised money — sales taxes and so on — that have to be spent on schools. Local taxpayers, in this case, are saving state taxpayers some money.
Intentionally or not, it’s a great political deal for state lawmakers. They can squawk at local school districts for high property tax rates at the same time they’re using some of that money to lower the state’s expenses for public education. The state budget is easier to balance because of the local tax money marbled into school spending.